Here we have Doug Paisley’s third record – his best by some way. And that’s all the more important when you consider that his previous records (and the EPs in-between them) were strong, sometimes great even. But Strong Feelings is his most complete record, his strongest set of songs. And yet here it is – so charmingly understated, so much so you’re sure, straight away, that many could miss the point of that. The artist himself might not be so bothered but I had a reaction listening to this, similar to when I heard The Lights From The Chemical Plant by Robert Ellis (coincidentally, that’s Ellis’ third album, head and shoulders above his other two – both decent-enough records also). Paisley doesn’t make music that in any way sounds like Ellis, though they both use country music to serve their songs; Ellis seems more like the hipster-posing-as-hick, bottling lightning by borrowing tropes, subverting the normal course of country, his is as much about a noir-ish version of singer/songwriter jazz. Paisley’s songs are just great songs – earnest, flat-out country and folk approach. The poet with the guitar. In that sense I can see why there have been comparisons to Kris Kristofferson – though he’s more tuneful, the themes are less repetitive and the arrangements shine. I can hear, also, why there’s been mention of Gordon Lightfoot in his sound.
But Paisley just real-deals the hell out of it on Strong Feelings – there’s the spiralling Where The Light Takes You, part blues-song, part psychedelic-folk, a little prog-ish almost but a towering goddamn country song. It’s Eric Clapton’s Let It Grow without the obvious plagiarism, with an earnestness you can actually feel; it’s one of ten mini masterpieces here. In that sense actually this record is a bit like John Fullbright’s Songs – a just-about-perfect set of songs, the sort that make you wonder why people won’t discover this, won’t take the chance…
There’s Growing Souls, which is every great moment James Taylor had and any decent aspect of Ryan Adams – and it’s the best songs Graham Nash put down on his solo records and it’s Kristofferson, definitely, but with a gentle, perfect arrangement to support it, soft, subtle hues and shades.
The closer, Because I Love You, is like a nearly-Nashville-treated version of those early KK songs, the early Dylan – the Tomorrow Is Such A Long Time-type. This record is low-key lovely; it’s so close to perfect. Just a little jiggle to the jangle here and there, just enough of an edge so as to never seem pristine.